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Application Tip: The GRE

Taking the GRE can be stressful - here are some helpful hints to take the stress away!

Taking the GRE can be stressful – here are some helpful hints to take the stress away!

I’ve been writing this blog for over three years and have not yet created an Application Tip post in regard to the GRE!  (That might give you an inkling into how much we weight this exam in the entirety of our admissions process.)  But taking the GRE is a requirement – and there are distinct advantages for doing well on this exam for applicants to our programs.

This exam definitely creates some level of anxiety in our applicants – especially for those who have been out of school and have not taken an exam in many years.  And some are “just not good test takers”.  So, in this post I will cover how our admissions review committee uses the GRE – and answer some common questions we get about the exam.

[NOTE:  in March 2020, the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs removed the GRE requirement for application to the MPA, MAIR and MA in Public Diplomacy & Global Communications programs.  See Blog Post regarding this new policy:    ]

A holistic approach
Firstly, it is important to know that an exceedingly stellar GRE will never be the sole reason an applicant is admitted to our MPA or MA IR degree program, and conversely, a really low score will never the be the sole reason an applicant is not admitted. That is what we mean about a holistic review of the application. No one part of the application will ever be the deciding factor in our admissions decision. That being said, applicants should prepare and put their best foot forward on all components of the application, including the GRE.

The GRE – (General Record Exam) General Test is a graduate level admissions test that tests verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing.  It is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).  It provides graduate programs a common measure for comparing candidates qualifications, no matter their academic or professional background.

Preparing is key
Taking the exam without preparation is not ideal nor recommended.  You will only do your best if you prepare in advance. The GRE is the only graduate-level admissions test that lets you skip questions, go back, change your answers and have control to tackle the questions you want to answer first.  Therefore, preparing for the exam also includes reviewing key strategies for successful completion.  The ETS GRE website provides information on how to schedule your exam, how best to prepare, test taking strategies, and even practice exams (see links below). Taking practice exams, especially regularly for a few weeks leading up to your test date, can help you be more comfortable with the pace and cadence of the exam, and therefore you will do better, than without this consistent review.

The GRE in our review process
As part of our admissions process, we view the GRE in concert with transcripts and letters of recommendation. These three parts of the application help us determine if an applicant is academically prepared for our program.  In this way, the GRE simply provides another data point on an applicant’s academic preparation.  The transcript will hold more weight, but the GRE can be a valuable confirmation of academic ability and knowledge levels across the three dimensions of the exam. In the cases when an applicant has not taken (for example) coursework in the quantitative areas, the GRE quantitative score may be the only indication of the ability to manage coursework in this area- and is therefore a much needed and critical data point in the admissions review process.

A note about financial awards 
Since all our financial aid is merit based, the strongest applications at admission will be considered for larger awards.  For financial aid consideration, as the only common data point across all our applications is the GRE, it will play a slightly more important role in this process.


Frequently Asked Questions – GRE:

How do I report my GRE scores?  You may self report your scores on your on-line application, but we do require official GRE scores to be sent to the Syracuse University via our university code (2823).  An application is not considered complete for admissions review until official scores are received. The university receives scores (on average) 10 days after the exam test date.  Our deadline for application is Feb 1 – so please plan your test date accordingly. See the link below to order an Additional Score Report from ETS for Syacuse University.  

Can I get a wavier for the GRE?  No, the GRE is required for all applicants to our MPA and MA IR programs.  It is a valuable data point in our review of academic preparation and the only common data point across all our applicants.

Will you accept the GMAT or LSAT in lieu of the GRE?  We will accept the GMAT in lieu of the GRE, as it has common testing components (verbal, quantitative and analytical writing).  We DO NOT accept the LSAT, as there is no quantitative section on this exam.

What are the median GRE scores for admitted PA and IR students?  Based on a three year average, median GRE scores of admitted/entering students to the MPA and MA IR programs are:

GRE V 580/158;  GRE Q 700/155;   GRE A 4.5

Do you have a cut-off score?  We do not have any cut off scores for the GRE.  Applications are reviewed holistically, and if all other aspects of the application show an applicants ability to succeed here, the GRE will not be the sole reason for not admitting a candidate. That being said, preparing and doing well on the exam is in your best interest and should be taken seriously to prevent any concern in admissions review.

What if I take the test multiple times – How do you treat multiple scores?  We consider the highest score from each section of the exam in our admissions review.


Other Resources from ETS on the GRE: (

GRE Webinars – ETS provides free webinars to learn about the General Test and ETS test preparation tools (offered in multiple language/time zones)

Prepare for the GRE – General Test -Test Preparation Materials Overview

Ordering Official Additional Score Reports – don’t forget to send your scores to SU at code: 2823

GRE Registration, Test Centers & Dates

GRE – FAQ page

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February 2024
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